We had been squeezing our loud, messy, homeless family of five into my parents’ modest four bedroom house for several months, and I hoped to God that my parents hadn’t noticed the palpable tension between Michael and me; I hadn’t spoken more than three words to or even looked my husband straight in the eye for the past week.
It wasn’t that hard. It’s easy to hide behind kids, no matter what their ages.
As cute and fun as three children under the age of six can be, life was full of diaper changes, temper tantrums in the Target parking lot, and twenty-minute hunts after bedtime around (my parents’) house to wipe up every chubby fingerprint of Desitin we could spot.
I was as exhausted as any young momma at the end of every day–especially considering my classic introvert personality. Add to that doing all of your parenting and living out your marriage in the presence of your parents 24-7, and you have a recipe for a wee bit of a stressed little momma.
So, no, it wasn’t all that hard for me plead “me time”…every evening.
And it wasn’t hard for either of us to vaguely put off all the Stuff We Needed to Make Space and Time to Talk About until “after the kids were in bed,” or…
…after the kitchen was clean
…after this busy weekend
…after soccer season
…after this project finishes at work
…after the baby sleeps through the night
Surviving Our Blessings
There are so many logistics to communicate about, so many non-negotiables to knock off the to-do list every day.
Even if you don’t have Major Issues to deal with like Michael and I did, it’s hard to stop taking care of kids for a minute to feel all warm and fuzzy about being married.
Am I right?!
It’s not just you. In these busy, beautiful, soul-refining years of raising a family, we parents and spouses can very easily become like two ships passing in the night.
And let’s be honest: a lot of times it’s just easier to hide behind the kids and the busy schedule than to make time to step out in the light together and talk about how we’re really doing as a couple emotionally, spiritually and intimately.
Maybe right now you’re not at the lowest point of your marriage like we were, but you still feel like your marriage is often just two roommates taking care of the same kids.
Michael and I still know exactly how you feel.
We now have five children ages 10 down to 2 in our home. As much as we discern carefully what we’re involved in, we are still surviving our blessings most days. And now that most of our children are school-age, it’s amazing how much busier we are than we were even five years ago. Sports practices, music lessons, club meetings, First Communion rehearsals, birthday parties and recitals, oh my!
Staying connected as a married couple emotionally, spiritually and physically is the top priority of Michael and I’s marriage–and hands-down remains our biggest challenge.
That Happier Ever After Place
A few months after the Week of No Eye Contact, by the grace of God we ended up going on a marriage retreat put on by Domestic Church, a movement in the Catholic Church for married couples.
That retreat was a turning point in our marriage. Going on one marriage retreat definitely didn’t solve all our problems, and we certainly didn’t drive home to Happily Ever After. I would say that we did go home, though, to a Happier Ever After. We also decided to join the movement.
That was six years ago.
Five of the special marriage tools we learned about on our Domestic Church retreat–and have been working on since–have been incredibly helpful in healing and helping our marriage get to that happier ever after place. Michael and I still very much have our ups and downs like everyone else, but we’ve got a deep-seated peace in our marriage now that comes with knowing we’re both on board with regularly, boldly, and effectively prioritizing our marriage amid the hustle and bustle of raising our family.
These are things that aren’t just “nice” to do; we both would agree after these past six years that we need these habits and tools to make our marriage work.
_ 1 _
Work on Yourself, First and Always
[Daily personal prayer and Scripture study]
Marriage takes a lot of work, yes, but a lot of that work is working on ourselves. Growing intentionally and consistently in our personal relationship with God is so important to a marriage. A person who knows he or she is loved unconditionally and is treated kindly and mercifully by God is a person who can love his or her spouse from wholeness.
Everybody’s personal prayer and Scripture study is going to look different, even from season to season of their lives. At a bare minimum each day, I like to read the daily Mass readings from the Laudate app. But matter how extensive or humble my personal prayer and Scripture study is for the day, I love that Isaiah 55:11 reminds us that God’s Word always does something great in our souls:
So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
_ 2 _
A Marriage Takes Three
[Daily Couple Prayer]
They say that a marriage takes three: You, your spouse, and God. Inviting God intentionally and regularly into your marriage, family, problems, hopes and fears as a couple, is a total gamechanger.
Michael and I pray together, out loud, every day. Our couple prayer definitely doesn’t knock it out of the park every single day (not nearly!), but every spiritual writer I’ve ever read says that it’s faithfulness–rather than fireworks–that matters most.
The Our Father is our non-negotiable, bare-minimum for Couple Prayer. And you know what I didn’t realize for a few years? Even that one simple prayer together every night really keeps our problems in perspective. Doing our couple prayer no matter what says, “Our life together is bigger than any fight, situation, or stress.”
And besides–as a priest friend famously told me a few years ago when Michael and I were sharing that we managed “just an Our Father” most nights: “Don’t ‘dis the Our Father! There’s everything in that prayer!”
_ 3 _
Scheduled, Mature, Prayerful Communication
[Monthly Couple Dialogue]
A Monthly Couple Dialogue is such a clear, tangible way to “work” at our marriage. It’s by far Michael and I’s favorite marriage tool.
Basically, a Couple Dialogue is scheduled time away from family life once per month to have an intentional, prayerful conversation about our marriage, our family, and about how we are each really doing. So many times when issues come up in marriage, it’s not the best time to talk about it; often one spouse is too hurt or angry, or there’s just not enough time, energy or privacy to really dive into it at that moment.
Having a regular time and place to bring decisions and issues brings a deep peace to both Michael and me. He doesn’t feel cornered or attacked when I desperately want to talk something out right then; I am able to calm down about my worries and hurts because I know I’ll have a chance to be heard safely and with respect by a calm spouse in the near future.
Michael and I personally find that if we try to have this kind of conversation “after the kids are in bed,” we’re both usually too tired and grumpy, so we try to get a babysitter and we’ll grab a booth in the very back corner of our favorite local restaurant.
The conversation should always begin with a simple spoken prayer, together, inviting the Holy Spirit to guide us. This is a huge help for having hard or awkward conversations that need to happen. It makes the conversation a safer place and a holy place to share our heart and be heard.
After inviting the Holy Spirit in, the conversation should cover the basics before branching off into anything in particular that spouses have prayerfully discerned they need to bring up: maybe it’s a personal frustration, a hurt, or a decision that must be made:
How are you really doing? How is your spiritual life going?
How am I really doing? How am I doing in my spiritual life?
How are we doing spiritually, emotionally, and in our physical relationship?
How are each of our children doing?
Are there any problems in our relationship that we need to address calmly and prayerfully right now? Is there anything we need to look ahead and be proactive about?
How are we doing passing on the faith to our children?
_ 4 _
Deciding What You’re About
[Developing a Rule of Life]
Before Domestic Church, I had heard of the Rule of St. Benedict, as well as Rules for other religious orders that organized their days into times for work and play, as well as gave them guidelines for behavior within the community. I had also heard before of families having a “mission statement.” But the idea of a lay person or a family having a rule of life was new to me.
It makes so much sense, though.
A Rule of Life for a marriage and family is basically a blend of mission statement, guidelines for behavior, and thoughtful consideration to how best to spend the family’s time.
Ideally, a family Rule of Life should be in place to make sure that the priorities of faith, family relationships, and God-honoring activities and ways of doing things are identified, agreed upon by you as a couple, and put into practice.
Every family Rule of Life I’ve ever seen is very different and very personal. There are some parts of the family Rule of Life that won’t ever change, and there are some parts of the Rule of Life that will need to change as the family goes through different seasons of life.
For example, one of our rules of life is that we do not watch movies or TV shows with explicit sexual content. That can be so hard sometimes when there’s a show that’s got a lot going for it, but has lots of sex scenes or other content that we know just isn’t good for our minds and souls. Having a specific guideline in our Rule of Life about the media we consume helps us to make a decision that we know is better for our souls. That’s a good example of a guideline in our family’s Rule of Life that’s not going to change.
Other parts of our Rule of Life are going to change occasionally. A few years ago when the kids were younger, we decided that we couldn’t go to more than one event per day on weekends (birthday parties, parades, etc), because dragging our large young family of little people around and missing naptimes always ended up with tears all around that night. These days, however, we still try to be very discerning about what we say yes to, but we no longer have that one-event-per-day as a hard and fast rule.
_ 5 _
The Need for Community
Whether or not you and your spouse join a movement like Domestic Church, cultivating a community of other faith-filled couples is so important for your marriage. We need the support, the example, and the gentle accountability of community.
For Michael and me, having a strong Catholic Christian community around us is huge. One gift of being in the Domestic Church movement is that we have become friends with a lot of other Catholic families trying to live their Catholic Christian faith in marriage and parenthood, in all different seasons of life.
We have been able to watch how other couples we know deal with temper tantrums, job insecurity, or their son’s needy teenage girlfriend.
The community aspect of the Domestic Church movement really help to remind me that each and every marriage and family is different, and that the commitments look a little different for each family.
As we look up to and meet beautiful families that we find are just as chaotic and “normal” as we are, it remind us that our own family really is beautiful, too, even though we often feel like a mess.
Working on these 5 powerful habits has helped us to prayerfully (and more calmly!) navigate problems with our physical and emotional health, communication, work, postpartum periods, parenting, intimacy and finances.
They’ve been essential in dealing with the stresses of these busy years of having babies and raising a large young family.
It’s not that the Domestic Church movement is perfect, or has the magic formula to heal or perfect every single Catholic marriage. Domestic Church is simply one avenue of intentionally and regularly drawing on the grace of this beautiful, difficult Sacrament.
It’s about living an intentional marriage.
Back when we were living with my parents and I was so angry at Michael all the time that I couldn’t even look him in the eye for a while, I came across a blog post by writer Hallie Lord that was a spark of hope for me.
She wrote simply that she couldn’t share everything her marriage had been through (and neither can I!), but that she could testify to one truth:
Your marriage has as much potential as God has power.
Little did I know six years ago what God had in store for Michael and me.
For one, we now facilitate the same marriage retreat that God used to start the turnaround of our marriage six years ago.
It boils down down to this: Our marriage is a top priority of our life because we believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is a happy marriage.
I second Hallie’s very powerful, very true words with all my heart. It’s my dearest wish to give enormous hope to every one of you who reads this post.
May God bless you and yours, wherever you are!
Some of you who read this may have Domestic Church in your diocese. Lucky you! If you don’t have it in your diocese yet, though, don’t be discouraged! Prayerfully consider attending the retreat nearest you, and see what God might speak to you and your spouse through the weekend. Check out the Domestic Church website for more information about this beautiful Polish movement that is now blessing hundreds of marriages in dioceses across the United States (and many thousands of marriages around the world)!